Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist has given an insight into the planning process behind that wickedly clever lineout try finished off by Hamish Watson at the weekend which bamboozled the formidable South African pack.
Gilchrist, pictured below, wasn’t involved against the Springboks but had been part of the training drills during the week as new forwards coach Danny Wilson hatched the ploy which led to hooker Stuart McInally popping in a short put-in at a lineout five metres from the line and flanker Watson sweeping round to exploit the gap. The 34th-minute score helped Scotland draw level at 17-17 and further enhanced their reputation as one of the most innovative teams in Test rugby.
“It was a move we’d previewed from the way South Africa defend,” explained Gilchrist, who will hope to be involved again this weekend when head coach Gregor Townsend names his team to face Argentina today,
“It was suited to them, so we worked on it in training and when the boys did it in training it was one of those ones that was either going to work or things wouldn’t go so well for Hamish.
“But the execution in the game was even better than we did in training. It was a 50-50 in training but the way it worked during the game, Mish [Watson] was moving right at the last second and [prop] Gordy [Reid] had a little show to the front, so their loosehead panicked, shot forward and it opened up the gap. A great try, always great to see those invention tries work.”
Edinburgh second row Gilchrist said that inventive plays were worked on a lot but the opportunity to try them out in the intensity of a big game only came along fleetingly, and had to remain an occasional surprise tactic.
“It has to be something based on team to team. If you try to make up things that aren’t there, then you’re going to get in trouble,” said the 28-year-old.
“There’s scope for it because teams have traits and ways they like to defend in certain areas. Obviously you’ve no guarantee, maybe South Africa could have gone into the game and picked a totally different defence for that week, which is something we sometimes do and other teams do from time to time.
“If it hadn’t been on, we wouldn’t have called it. I think there is still, if you do your homework properly, opportunities for that stuff.”
Gilchrist was on supporting duties at the weekend, with Jonny Gray and Ben Toolis forming the engine room against the Boks and Exeter utility forward Sam Skinner at blindside, and he admitted that, when the lineout came about after a thrilling break and chip ahead by Stuart Hogg, he was rubbing his hands.
“When the ball got kicked out, we were all saying, ‘this is on’. We were getting quite excited in the stand,” he said.
“It was an awesome feeling for everyone because we are each other’s biggest supporters. We are all one as a squad, so it was a great feeling for everyone to be involved in that.”
It was the second memorable try for Scotland in the game following Peter Horne’s after some Huw Jones wizardry and Gilchrist gave credit to Wilson, the man Townsend brought from Cardiff Blues, for the Watson beauty.
‘It was definitely Danny [Wilson, forwards coach] who had done the homework and seen it was on this time,” said the lock.
“I’ve been involved in similar moves in years gone by when the players have spotted something that a coach hasn’t seen. It’s important that everyone has a look at stuff and you put your opinion forward. It’s then the coaches’ decision what they want to do.
‘But it was definitely credit to Danny on this occasion.”
Gilchrist said that what appears to be off-the-cuff innovation is limited and practised and there were not a plethora of wacky moves in Scotland’s locker.
“Nah, not really. Training time is so cut down that you’ve really got to be putting forward your ideas off the field,” he said. “When you’re on the field, it really has to be things that you’ve already decided on beforehand. You only have a certain amount of scope for stuff. It’s always good when it comes off. But you still need to nail the basics because, five metres out, you’re not always going to do a trick play.
“Most of the time, you’re going to look to drive for the line as that’s the most effective way of scoring.”
Scotland have form for inventive lineout plays after doing something in the 2017 Six Nations that not many have managed – make Ireland’s renowned pack look a bit silly when centre Alex Dunbar infiltrated the lineout to crash over in the win at BT Murrayfield under Vern Cotter.
“That was just a last-minute thing where we decided in training,” recalled Gilchrist, “In the team run, we just decided, ‘well, if they do that, what are we going to do?’
“You know, if they defend the pod and the guy at the front, what are we going to do? Well, we will hit ours through the middle. We were like, ‘oh right, cool’.
“Then it happened in the game and it was literally just decided in the team run. Whereas this one [Watson’s] was a bit more planned in advance.”
Gilchrist started that record win over Argentina in Resistencia in the summer but knows that the Pumas have improved since then.
“The game in the summer wasn’t the type of game that we expected. I think it was just an off-day from Argentina,” he said of the 44-15 rout.
“They haven’t changed drastically in their style of play since then. Just their performances across the board have been stronger and stronger.
“You can still see it’s the same team, but they’ve definitely picked up their levels and got some good results.”